Dying Laughing

 

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Stand-up: the art of comedians who regularly take on the risk of bombing. 

 

Dying Laughing

Chris Rock

 

The notion of making a film in which comedians talk about their work is not new. As recently as 2015 we had Misery Loves Company and now we have Dying Laughing made by Paul Toogood and Lloyd Stanton. As the titles indicate, both pieces draw on the idea that those who make a career out of comedy are insecure people driven by the need to earn the approval of strangers which they find when audiences laugh and applaud. However, Dying Laughing, definitely the better of the two works, concentrates on stand-up comedy not just mainly but exclusively.

 

The argument put forward, not in voice over but directly from the comments of a vast number of stand-up comedians, is that this brand of comedy is an art form which more than any other involves self-exposure. These performers find humour in their own lives and in their own truths, which is what makes stand-up as personal as it gets. Those who take it up may initially copy others but will only succeed if they can become themselves, a process which it is suggested here may well take a whole decade.

 

Although British artists appear - they range from Steve Coogan and Billy Connolly to a brief contribution from the late Victoria Wood - the emphasis is largely on America and, if being something of an outsider is not at all unusual in this sphere, it is no surprise to find that many black artists are featured, from Jamie Foxx and Kevin Hart over there to Stephen K. Amos here. To break up the material, there are brief scenes in colour showing theatres and clubs or landscape (the latter relevant to the loneliness of going on the road especially in a country as huge as the USA). However, most of Dying Laughing is shot in black and white adding a sense of intimacy as the interviewees speak direct to camera. Actual performances are not included but the stories told sometimes suggest an element of performance in the telling (the strongest are, in fact, those that are the most direct and simple).

 

Dying Laughing is not formally divided into sections but, following on from a range of observations, we find gathered together comments on hecklers and on what it feels like when performers bomb. This grouping results in the more diverse last quarter of the film lacking a climactic sense of focus and the music added at intervals is banal. But the most serious criticism of Dying Laughing is that it never feels like a film, suggesting instead a programme made for television. However, with ruthlessness playing a useful part (some interviewees get to say very little), the film does cover a lot of ground. It grips better than Misery Loves Company and provides genuine insights. Even if it hardly counts as cinema, viewers with a strong interest in the subject will not be disappointed. The film is dedicated to the late Garry Shandling who is one of the contributors.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Garry Shandling, Kevin Hart, Stephen K. Amos, Billy Connolly, Jerry Lewis, Jamie Foxx, Steve Coogan, Amy Schumer, Victoria Wood, Chris Rock, Eddie Izzard, Sarah Silverman, Jo Brand, Stewart Lee, Sandra Bernhard, Frankie Boyle, Jo Brand, Cedric the Entertainer, Omid Djalili, Mike Epps, Gilbert Gottfried.

 

Dir Paul Toogood and Lloyd Stanton, Pro Paul Toogood, Lloyd Stanton and Suli McCullough, Ph Auston Call, John Halliday and Adam Singodia, Ed Chris Dickens, Peter Norrey and Pawel Stec, Music Ed Shearmur.

 

4045 Films-Miracle Comms.
88 mins. UK. 2016. Rel: 16 June 2017. Cert. 15.